Not About Gratitude

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My friend is 95. She is dear to me, a sweet woman who is frail but feisty. Can you be both? I think so. She is kind and hospitable when I come to call, and offers me food: an apple, an orange, a cup of tea. The feisty part comes out when she argues with her caregiver about what to wear, and when to stop talking and get dressed. Over the last year, I have seen her mental sharpness fade. On the phone, she asks me over and over what time I am coming. She cries easily, missing her husband who died years ago. She talks to a life-sized photo of him propped on a chair in her living room, facing the couch where she sits. I know it’s not him, she says with a smile, but it makes me feel better when I talk to him.

I bring food because it gives us something to do together, and is easier than trying to hold a conversation as she repeats herself, asking me the same question over and over, and generally making me crazy. I bring two cups of coffee and bagels with cream cheese. She enjoys them after she gets up and down for sugar, milk, and paper napkins for us both. I give up trying to get her to settle down and just wait her out. She’ll get there.

We had a visit scheduled for the morning after the 2016 presidential election. She had the TV on when I walked in. How can Donald Trump be president? she screeched. I was in tears but she didn’t seem to notice, or maybe she did and understood.

She likes to tell me about her childhood, growing up black in New Jersey. I asked her how she could stand it, being always put down, even by so-called friends, and told you were second class. She said you have to decide you’re not going to be angry all the time.

I think a lot about what she said. I’m a little bit angry every day since the presidential election. I hate what I see – the incivility, the overt racism, the ugly nationalism. In my youth, there was hate and violence too. But I was white, and young, and sure the country would get better, more egalitarian. More compassionate. It did, for a while. I worked for the state government in the Great Society; I was a bureaucrat in the War on Poverty during the Lyndon Johnson administration. Sure, there was waste, and too many rules. But now, the subject of poverty hardly comes up in the public sphere, and not because poverty is gone. 

Some days, it’s hard holding on to hope. I’m older too. Will I live to see a better day? My friend is getting ready to leave this life, and talks about where she’s going next. She’s not angry, that’s for sure. I almost envy her.

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Do you have hope for our country? How do you hold on to it? Comment below under “leave a reply” and you might win a copy of Old Friend From Far Away, a book on memoir writing by Natalie Goldberg.

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The winner of last month’s drawing is Carolyn Ferris Gombosi. She gets a copy of Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, a beautiful story of grief and resilience. Congratulations, Carolyn, and thanks for sharing your thoughts here!

 

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10 thoughts on “Not About Gratitude

  1. Although I’ve never been that great into history, I have figured out that generations don’t learn from the generation before them. If we did, we wouldn’t always be fighting wars. Staying angry interferes with our inner peace and causes anxiety but it doesn’t solve problems. Each person has to go into their golden years trying to figure out what works for them as individuals because most of us don’t have the answer for World Peace.

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  2. I’m an optimist too. Every time I think about my beautiful baby grandson or any of the grandchildren of my friends and family, I have to believe that they will inspire people to be better- to care about the condition of our planet and the people in it. I’m finding too that as I age, I am more willing to take a stand. Personally, maybe I have less to lose, but I see better the value of what we all have to lose.

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  3. The frustration with our current political reality is deep and there’s a daily sorrow that after a lifetime of efforts to move forward, we have fallen so hard. I hate leaving this to my kids and grandkids. Yet I refuse to give in to despair. That won’t help them. I find hope in action, however small, and in recognizing that change always comes. Your loving actions, Linda, and those of people all around me, are the best antidote to despair. We are better than this, and time will bring that goodness back around.

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